Putin Rebuffs Fraud Complaints, Sees Foreign Role In Rallies

MOSCOW, Russia -- Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he won’t bow to demands for a re-run of a parliamentary vote and accused his foes of trying to “destabilize” Russia with foreign support by protesting election fraud.

Vladimir Putin

Putin, 59, who faces the biggest unrest since he came to power, warned against being “dragged into some schemes to destabilize society” and compared the rallies against accusations of ballot-rigging in the Dec. 4 election to Ukraine’s Orange Revolution.

Courts must review allegations of vote fraud after official results are announced, he said.

“We know the Orange Revolution in Ukraine -- some of our opposition leaders were in Ukraine at the time and were working officially as advisers to Yushchenko,” Putin said today, referring to the 2004 street protests in the former Soviet republic that overturned the results of a presidential election and brought opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko to power. “They are transferring these tactics to Russia.”

Speaking in a televised phone-in show that lasted 4 1/2 hours, Putin said organizers paid students to join a Dec. 10 rally in the Russian capital.

Opposition groups got permission yesterday to stage another rally in Moscow on Dec. 24 for as many as 50,000 people, twice the size of the crowd estimated by police last week.

The protests over the parliamentary vote may force Putin into a run-off contest in March’s presidential election if he can’t win more than fifty percent support.

‘Insulting’

“Putin doesn’t believe that he has to make any serious compromises,” Mikhail Vinogradov, head of the St. Petersburg Politics Foundation research group, said by telephone today.

“Instead, he made statements that the opposition will consider insulting.”

Putin’s approval rating is 46 percent, according to a Nov. 26-27 poll of 3,000 people by the Public Opinion Foundation.

No margin of error was given.

The state-run All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, or VTsIOM, gives Putin 41 percent approval in a poll conducted among 1,600 people on Nov. 26-27 with a 3.4 percentage-point margin of error.

The ruble gained for the first time this month, adding less than 0.1 percent to 31.7900 per dollar and trading near its weakest level against the U.S. currency in more than two months. The 30-stock Micex Index rose 1.5 percent to 1,393.61.

‘Real Balance’

“The results of these elections definitely reflect the real balance of forces in the country,” said Putin, who in September announced plans to return to the Kremlin, pushing aside his protege Dmitry Medvedev.

“The opposition will always claim election results aren’t fair.”

Some of his opponents “have Russian passports, but are acting in the interests of foreign states and with foreign money,” Putin said.

Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and an opposition leader who backed Yushchenko as president, became an economic adviser after the Ukrainian leader was elected.

He didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone seeking comment.

Putin, who served as president from 2000 to 2008 and may be in power until 2024, told election officials today to install web cameras at every single polling station in March to avoid any accusations of vote fraud.

‘Minimize the Chance’

“For me it’s clear these attacks about the recent elections have an ongoing character -- the main aim is the next elections, presidential elections,” Putin said.

“We need to make sure there aren’t any problems here, to minimize the chance for people to point to these elections as unfair, to pull the rug from under those who want to delegitimize the authorities completely.”

The ruling United Russia party’s majority in the State Duma dropped to 238 of the legislature’s 450 seats from 315 after the 2007 vote as stalling wage growth and the government’s failure to curb corruption repelled voters.

International observers said the parliamentary vote was marked by ballot-stuffing and was neither free nor fair.

Putin’s party won more than 46 percent of the vote in Moscow, Europe’s largest city with 11.5 million people and the epicenter of the protests to date, according to official results.

That compared with 27.5 percent support in an exit poll by the Public Opinion Foundation.

The prime minister said an incident on Nov. 20 in which spectators at a mixed-martial arts contest in Moscow appeared to boo him wasn’t a concern.

‘Not Offended’

“It’s not clear what this noise was about,” he said. “It could have been various things, one of which was my appearance on the ring. This is entirely possible and I’m not offended.”

Putin also said he would quit his leadership role if he understood that he no longer had the support of the people.

Ousted Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said Putin shouldn’t “provoke” political protesters with claims that many of them were paid to attend rallies.

People are right to condemn the election results because violations occurred and the response from the authorities has been “inadequate,” Kudrin told reporters in Moscow today.

Putin’s attitude to the protests shows that he hasn’t understood the need to take on board the complaints of the middle-class Russians who took to the streets, said Julian Rimmer, a trader of Russian shares at CF Global Trading in London.

“He has been trotting out the familiar canards to explain away the most vociferous expressions of discontent since his reign of ‘managed democracy’ began,” Rimmer said by e-mail today.

“He has, by turns, blamed foreign interference for the dissent or clever manipulation of callow youth by unscrupulous ‘counter-revolutionary elements.’”

Source: Business Week

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